By Ron Kanterman
We all know that fixed fire protection is not the be-all and end-all for fire protection and life safety, but in an industrial setting fixed systems are almost a must. My last Web article discussed rapid intervention and getting lines inside and a line to the fire department connection (FDC). Perhaps getting the line to the FDC (ie., the siamese connection) is the most important function on arrival assuming the system has actuated. These systems are the first line of defense against fire and industrial brigades and municipal fire departments must have a better understanding of them. The water motor gong ringing on a large industrial or commercial occupancy on your arrival should be music to your ears! Take comfort in knowing that there is water or another fire suppressant on the fire, and you’ll probably be mopping up and returning soon.
Let’s get back to the fire. The first line goes to the siamese and, depending on your SOPs, you’ll be looking at 125 to 150 psi. Once this line is in place or simultaneously, you can stretch the first hand-held attack line to the seat of the fire. Assign a member to the sprinkler control valve to shut the control valve on orders of the incident commander as the line moves in for final extinguishment. Shutting the sprinklers when the line is in place is paramount for two reasons. First, the sprinkler water coming down from the ceiling will push the smoke and steam down, creating zero visibility (it may already be zero, but why compound it?). Second, the amount of steam produced may tend to “par-boil” the members on their entry into the room of fire. Ventilation is key to this operation. Fighting fires in sprinklered buildings vs. nonsprinklered buildings is a tactic that needs to be preplanned and discussed prior to responding to these occupancies whether on or off an industrial site. Tactical training in fighting fires in sprinklered buildings is a must.
Plant emergency personnel need to be most familiar with the plant fixed fire protection systems. Being that most industrial fire brigades or industrial fire departments are made up of plant personnel who have other jobs, there is a talent pool to pull from. Chances are, you may have a pipe fitter or two on the brigade who may have intimate knowledge of sprinklers, standpipes, and allied equipment. Tap this resource during training and preplanning activities. Don’t limit yourself to plant personnel. Sprinkler contractors, local fitter union training schools, and consultants can teach the nuances of fixed fire protection systems.
Don’t get too technical with your firefighters. Keep it simple, but build a foundation of knowledge they can use on the fireground. The IC must be able to count on every member of the brigade at all times. Make sure the members know their “valves”–the gatekeeper to the systems. There are at least a half-dozen approved control valves, and they all operate a little differently. Don’t forget that control valves have to be “indicating valves” (as per NFPA 13), meaning that you should be able to look at the valve and know whether it’s open or closed. It is imperative that the brigade, plant pipe fitters, or sprinkler contractor restore the system as soon as possible after the fire is out. Always minimize fire protection “downtime.” This will allow for return to normal operations faster, which will be sure to please the insurance company as well as the local fire authorities.
Don’t forget maintenance, the forgotten chore. What’s the point of having sprinklers if the lines or the supply main is clogged? No one should have more of a vested interest in these systems than the brigade, the brigade chief, and the site safety manager. Get together with the proper site groups, and ensure these systems are working and maintained “fire ready” at all times.
- Get the first line to the siamese connection and support the sprinklers.
- Prefire planning is essential for better fireground operations.
- Training should include fixed systems and how to operate in fires where fixed systems have actuated.
- Use plant personnel and outside resources for systems training.
- Spread your training to standpipes and other allied equipment.
- Keep fire protection “downtime” to a minimum.
- Maintenance is key!
Ron Kanterman is chief of emergency services for Merck & Co. in Rahway, New Jersey, and a volunteer on call member of the Borough of North Plainfield (NJ) Fire Rescue Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science administration and master’s degrees in fire protection management and environmental science and is an adjunct professor of fire science at Middlesex County College. He is a member of the FDIC staff and advisory board and of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board.